The category names that follow are largely our own creation, and are neither perfect nor all-inclusive. The purpose here is only to give a rough outline of how we at Blister tend to think about modern ski boots, and these general categories will allow us to locate the boots we review among these general categories.
With the proliferation of AT boots, we’re seeing some boots that are optimized for uphill / touring performance; other boots that are optimized for downhill / skiing performance; and a ton of boots that fall somewhere between these Uphill vs. Downhill ends of the performance spectrum, trying to strike a good balance between uphill travel and downhill skiing performance.
Randonee Race Boots
These boots are very light, often quite expensive, and designed for winning races and/or going very far, very fast.
Binding compatibility: Randonee racing boots are for tech bindings only. Most of them are intended for use primarily with super light weight race bindings.
Lightweight AT Boots (~1200 grams per boot)
In our opinion, this category has been defined and dominated by the Dynafit TLT 5 and 6 series, which combine the very light construction of rando race boots with features that increase downhill performance, such as removable tongues and more robust liners and construction.
For many ski tourers, this category of Lightweight Alpine Touring boots should be high on the list, and can cover most people for most backcountry endeavors. These boots tend to weigh around 1200 grams per boot (about 2.5 lbs).
In addition to the TLT 5 and 6, the new Atomic Backland boots fall into this category, as does the recently discontinued Scarpa F1 Evo.
Binding compatibility: The Dynafit TLT6 series and the Atomic Backland Carbon are compatible with tech bindings only. They cannot be used in any frame bindings (such as the Salomon Guardian, Marker Duke, Fritschi Freeride) or any alpine bindings.
The TLT6 is compatible with the Marker Kingpin—with the installation of a special heel piece adaptor. It will also work with the Dynafit Beast bindings with the heel piece adaptor that the Beast requires for all boots.
We are awaiting confirmation on whether the Atomic Backland can be set up to work with the Dynafit Beast or Marker Kingpin, but our suspicion (based on the heel molding) is that it is not compatible.
Performance / Midweight AT Boots (~1500-1600 grams per boot)
Whether most of us really need the extra stiffness (and weight) of these boots for day-to-day ski touring is debatable, but many of us look to this category for a boot that is designed specifically for ski touring with: (a) shorter, rockered soles, lighter weight (~1500-1600 grams per boot), and tech binding compatibility, while (potentially) offering a stiffer, supportive flex that is more akin to a full alpine boot.
The Dynafit Vulcan, Mercury, and Khion; Salomon MTN Lab and MTN Explore; and Scarpa Maestrale series are good examples, but almost every major boot maker has a boot in this category now. They vary greatly in execution, and some of them don’t ski as well or flex as stiffly as much lighter (but more expensive) boots in the “Lightweight AT” category described above.
This is also the first category of boots we would consider (and could recommend) for both inbounds and out of bounds use. The best heavier, dedicated alpine boots will still provide noticeably better downhill performance than the boots in this class, but if you are spending more of your time touring and less time in the resort—or even if you have close to a 50/50 split between inbounds days and backcountry days—these boots could make for a good one-boot-quiver.
Binding compatibility: These boots are compatible with all tech bindings including the Marker Kingpin and the Dynafit Beast (with the same heel adaptor as with all other boots). In addition they are almost all ISO 9523 compatible which means that they can be used in most frame style AT bindings and even a few specially designed alpine bindings like the newest version of the Salomon Warden MNC as discussed above.
Heavyweight AT Boots (~1800 grams per boot)
These boots are typically in the ~1800 gram range, and look and ski more like alpine boots than most of the boots that would fall in the above categories. They often use lighter plastics and buckles to shave some weight, and usually have removable sole blocks that allow them to be used in normal alpine bindings. This category is typified by boots like the Tecnica Cochise Pro Lite and Scarpa Freedom SL.
Binding compatibility: These boots are cool in that most of them are compatible with just about any binding on the market through the use of interchangeable sole blocks that will fit tech, frame-style, or alpine bindings. So if versatility is your primary concern, these boots can make a lot of sense.
Alpine Ski Boots with Walk Modes (~2000+ grams per boot)
This is pretty self-explanatory, and includes most boots in the Tecnica Cochise line and the Lange XT series, the Dalbello Lupo SP, Fischer Ranger, K2 Pinnacle 130, and many others, and often weigh in excess of 2000 g per boot. If designed correctly, these boots should flex and ski almost identically to full-on riveted alpine boots, and they implement heavier plastics and hardware to accomplish this.
Boots like these are best for those who are spending most of their time in the resort, but simply want to have the option of a walk mode for the occasional ski tour—and especially if your time hiking or skinning tends to be pretty short.
Binding compatibility: Some of the boots in this category do have tech fitting or interchangeable sole blocks that will fit tech bindings (e.g., Tecnica Cochise Pro 130, Salomon Quest Max 130), but most of them are primarily intended to be used with alpine bindings or frame-style bindings.
Dedicated Alpine Ski Boots (2000+ grams per boot)
As AT gear becomes more and more popular and the push is to make ski equipment lighter and lighter, here is a quick word in defense of traditional ski boots that are designed purely for downhill performance:
If most of your skiing is lift-accessed, and certainly if most of your time is spent on-piste, then please don’t assume that your ski boots ought to have a walk mode. It’s one more thing that can break or develop slop / play over time, and few AT boots can match the progressive flex, lateral stiffness, or damping / suspension of the best dedicated alpine ski boots.
Point is, if you are going to only use one boot for everything, then just as with skis, you are going to have to accept some performance compromises. AT boots make it more comfortable and more efficient to travel uphill. If you’re not traveling uphill, then forget all of this AT tech and go get yourself a comfortable, high-performance alpine ski boot.
Furthermore, more and more non-walk-mode having alpine boots are coming with rubber soles rather than the hard-plastic (and more slippery) soles found on race-oriented alpine boots. So you can still easily get a bit of added traction if you like without going to a boot with a walk mode.
Caveat & Bottom Line
Not all boots fall neatly into our categories. For example, the La Sportiva Spectre weighs just shy of 1500 grams and has four buckles, placing it into our Performance / Midweight AT category, but it doesn’t really ski any better or more powerfully than the Dynafit TLT6 Performance or the Atomic Backland Carbon, which weigh 300 grams less.
Still, these categories ought to help you understand that a “Lightweight AT boot” like the Atomic Backland Carbon is not going to provide the same level of downhill performance as the “Performance / Midweight AT boot Salomon MTN Lab, and certainly not of the much heavier “Alpine Boot with Walk Mode” Lange XT 130. Then again, the Backland also won’t make you drag nearly as much weight uphill….
Point is, we hope these categories help you to make more Apples-to-Apples comparisons as you’re considering which AT boot makes the most sense for you, given how and where you actually ski.